473 not out! First-grade cricketer to claim record dad held
A MAN with 472 Sydney first-grade cricket matches under his belt might be forgiven for thinking there were few surprises left in the sport.
UTS North Sydney all-rounder Rob Aitken will this weekend break the record for the highest number of outings in the competition's 125-year history, delivering an unexpected, personal achievement.
And the restoring of a small piece of family honour.
Aitken will take the record from Ken Hall, who himself took it from Rob's father, Bob, who racked up 369 appearances in his own career.
It was news to Aitken when the milestone loomed.
"(Before this month) I didn't actually know Dad had a record like that, I don't think anyone in our family knew," Aitken SAID. "So it's pretty cool if you look at it that way.
"I watched a bit of Dad's cricket (when I was a kid), though I probably spent more time playing in the dirt at Kings Oval and the other ground and playing with my brothers.
"I played against Kenny Hall and really respect him too, he's a fantastic player and still playing now in the over 60s I think which is pretty incredible.
"To be (mentioned) in the same breath as a guy like that is pretty amazing."
Incredible just about sums up Aiken's career, too.
He made his first-grade debut as a 17-year-old in 1992 for Fairfield-Liverpool, before stints with Petersham-Marrickville and Parramatta.
Then, in 2001, he joined the Bears, where he has played 369 of his huge number of matches.
A talented finger spinner and handy batsman, he represented NSW at under-19, under-21 and 2nd XI level.
In the 2000-01 season, Rob won the Bill O'Reilly Medal for the best player in Sydney Grade Cricket, before following that up with the Michael Bevan Medal for the best limited-overs player when the Bears won their fifth limited-overs title in 2012-13.
"Just to be in a team where everyone is playing well, everyone is contributing, and to get to that point and finally do it in a one day competition, it was amazing," the ultimate team man remembers of that season.
He is also one of only two men, alongside Grant Lambert, with 11,000 first-grade runs - including eight centuries and 58 fifties - and 600 wickets.
"This competition has been going something like 130 years and this fella's played more of it than anyone else," said Todd Harper, a coach at the Bears, who described Aitken as the most polite, hardworking and modest men he'd ever played with or coached.
"And you don't do that without being good."
Much has changed over the 27 years that Aitken has been playing first grade. The advent of T20 has altered tactics and approach. The bats, he says, have become more destructive pieces of weaponry.
" (And) I don't remember breaking as many fingers in the past as I have in the past five to 10 years," he said.
"The balls seems to come back a lot harder, or maybe I'm getting more fragile, I don't know … I'm hoping it's the cricket bats."
Aitken puts his longevity down to a simple, pure enjoyment of the sport that makes hard training sessions a pleasure rather than a chore. And the close bonds of family.
Rob has played much of his career with his two brothers James and Glenn at UTS North Sydney, themselves both closing in on 300 appearances.
"The fact that I've spent so much of my career playing with my brothers, that's been massive for me. I don't think I would have continued to play if they weren't playing as well," says Aitken.
"To turn up to training here at North Sydney, it's a good way to catch up with them.
"(But) my wife's probably the biggest thing. Kristie is very supportive."
Watching training it is clear the affection the primary school teacher is held in by teammates young and old. Though in truth, exclusively younger these days.
"We actually worked out over the weekend that only one player on my team was alive when I started playing first grade. James Campbell, our opening bowler … and he was one or something at the time," Aitken said.
"That's a little bit hard to wrap your head around actually."
North Sydney is a club with "no real hierarchy, we're very much all working together" - one where Aitken rocked up with plans stretching only as far as a single season, then stayed for two decades because he enjoyed it so much.
"Everyone at the Bears is incredibly proud of Rob and the club has been privileged to have him play so much of his career here," said club president Rob Lavery.
"Rob is one of the most approachable and pleasant members of our club, always happy to chat with other players, be they young or old. He truly loves the game and is always happy to hit a few more balls, bowl another over or do some extra fielding."
As to how much longer he will play on, Aitken will just see how the body holds up. Along with the patience of his wife.
"Depends what she (Kristie) wants really," said Aitken when mulling over the question of calling stumps some time in the future.
"She's been very supportive so far, so hopefully that continues.
"If you enjoy playing, you continue. You're a long time retired."
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